What I Wouldn’t Give to Play The Last of Us: A Review of TLOU Part 1
In 2017, I expressed a desire. “What I wouldn’t give,” I said on stage at the Game Accessibility Conference, “to play The Last of Us.” Now, you could argue that dream came true when I got to work on, and as a result play, The Last of Us Part 2, and certainly a dream did come true there. However, when I said those words, I was specifically thinking of the first game. The Last of Us. And now, I can proudly say to you that that dream has become a reality. The totally blind can now play the first game in the franchise in this brand new remake, and it is glorious in so many ways. We’ll discuss that in a second, but first as always, thanks so much to Playstation for providing me the review code for this game. It’s always an honor.
Firstly, I will admit some bias. After all, I worked on this game as well. So I guess as you read this review, know that I will tend to lean toward the side of awesome. I just want to get that out of the way before we proceed. The game does have its issues, which I will acknowledge, but still, I mean… I just played The Last of Us! If you’re blind, or disabled in any way that prevented you from doing that when the game originally came out, then you get it.
OK, so right off the bat, yes. Yes, TLOU part 1 has all of the accessibility features that TLOU2 had. All of them. Down to the last drop. You can expect your navigation assistance, your traversal assistance, your aim assist, your audio cues, all of it. For low vision users, you can expect your high contrast mode, your captions and subtitles with many configurable options, all of it. You can expect your skip puzzle option, (not necessary for blind play once again as all puzzles have been scripted), you can expect your slow motion options, you can expect your configurable difficulty. It’s all there! I know I haven’t listed literally everything, but you get the point. It’s all there, and it feels familiar. If you played TLOU2 as a disabled gamer, you’re coming home. It’s kind of funny since now you’re playing the first game, but you’ll feel it when you’re in it, I promise.
I do want to address one particular feature that folks may have questions about as they go into this game. TLOU2 had a feature called Invisible While Prone, which allowed the blind to much more effectively be stealthy in a system that didn’t identify cover points for us. Well, if you’re at all familiar with the first game, you may be aware that you cannot go prone. So how was this handled? Turns out, very simply. Holding circle, which you do in TLOU2 to go prone, just… activates invisibility if you have that feature on. Joel still doesn’t go prone, but the feature you expect as a blind player is still there, and still works mostly as expected. More on that later.
OK, so we’ve established that all the existing features are present. So how cool is it, then, that there are also NEW ones? Yeah, it’s pretty cool. The premier feature where the blind are concerned is Cinematic Descriptions, which provides professionally-produced audio description brought to you by the good folks at Descriptive Video Works, to the in-game cinematics. It is important to note that these descriptions to not apply to all noninteractive moments in the game, just the ones that are actual cinematics and don’t take place in-engine. Still, there is a significant amount of described material across TLOU and Left Behind, so I hope you won’t be too disappointed. For what it’s worth, this is a first step. This is the first attempt at putting professional audio description in any game at all, and for that, I think it’s wonderful.
Now I want to talk about another new feature which I think is a revolutionarilyl awesome idea. That said, there’s a chance I’m overhyping this because I am not personally deaf, and this feature is targeted for Deaf/Hard of Hearing gamers. I just happen to also think it’s amazing. There is a feature in TLOU Part 1 that allows you to send all in-game dialog to the Dualsense controller as vibrations, so the tone of that dialog can be conveyed through touch. Is that not a brilliant idea? No seriously, I don’t know. I’m writing this review before all the others have been published of course, so I’m excited to get an actual deaf gamer’s take on this, but it sounds really neat to me.
And speaking of the Dualsense, yeah, let’s talk more about that. The implementation of the Dualsense controller features in this game is just… just so good. Everything feels great, but there are a few specific standouts. For example, Tommy’s car in the beginning of the game. Not only can you feel the engine while you’re in it, but you can even tell when he starts driving on dirt. No, I’m not kidding. As they drive past the farmhouse, pay attention to what you’re feeling. You’ll even know when he turns back onto the highway. Another specific standout is the loading and cocking of the shotgun. All the guns feel fine, don’t get me wrong, but there’s just something about this one specifically. It both sounds, and feels really satisfying. Lastly, the assault rifle. Not only does it kick in your hand when you fire it, but they also used the adaptive trigger to simulate that effect you get in arcade gun games where the trigger kind of jostles in your hand. I think it was done by very very rapidly adjusting trigger resistance over and over again as the gun is firing. It’s nuts! I can’t believe it works, but it does. Trust me.
I just want to reiterate that the Dualsense haptic stuff is good in general, so if I didn’t mention something above, that doesn’t mean it was done badly. Those 3 things are very specifically incredible standout moments. The flamethrower gives you a nice hiss through your hands as you fire it, the pistol gives you a lovely pop, it’s all good. I just want to make sure that’s clear.
OK. Now it’s time to talk about the few issues, many of which may actually be corrected via day 1 patch. Yes, it is absolutely worth mentioning that this entire review was done pre-day 1 patch, so it’s possible some of these issues will not exist by the time you play. Nevertheless, this is based on my review experience, so here they are.
First, the waypoints feel a bit unfinished in some areas, and I encountered a few bugs with the nav assist system. I say unfinished because it appears they haven’t made paths leading out of every place you could end up. What I mean by this is that sometimes, after collecting an item, I would lose the ability to follow the golden path until I moved a bit more, presumably back into the closest waypoint’s range, and then everything would be fine. I did also encounter some of the old glitches from TLOU2 that were patched, like losing the ability to use nav assist in perfectly mapped areas until the checkpoint, and in one case, the entire game was restarted. I have no doubt this will be fixed, probably sooner than later, but again, just reporting things as they happened to me.
An additional note on nav assist and waypoints. There is a significant difference in the way encounters work in TLOU1 which I wasn’t aware of until I played it, and it’s important because some things you might perceive as glitches are not. So, in TLOU2, encounters are pretty much clearly defined. Either it is an encounter where you have the option of sneaking through and avoiding combat, or it isn’t, and once that’s done you’re usually onto the next obvious game segment. TLOU1 actually doesn’t work this way. There are multiple situations where you are required to kill enemies, then you can move along the golden path a bit further, but then you’re required to kill all enemies again meaning you lose the golden path. This actually isn’t a glitch, I just think it’s important to point out because it is absolutely a difference.
Back to the issues. There are a couple of bloater encounters where the mechanic that allows you to run from enemies using nav assist doesn’t work. This valuable mechanic, used to gain distance from particular dangerous enemies so we can have a better fighting chance since again, we can’t see the environment, is super great when it works, but I’m sad to report that as of this writing, there are 2 encounters where it does not. The worst of these is in what I will call the David segment. You’re already in relatively close quarters, but because you’re surrounded by so much stuff in that small space, I found it very difficult to gain any distance from the charging bloater. Just turning away from it’s audio and trying to run only worked so well. Most of the time I just immediately ran into some obstacle I couldn’t figure out how to get around in the few seconds that encounter gives you. Again, I know the space is relatively small, but I’m certain there’s some path somewhere that nav assist could use to help you stay away from it for at least a while. I did eventually pass the encounter, but I didn’t feel good about it when I did. I had no feeling like what I had done was based on my quick thinking and quick action, I feel like it was luck. Sprinting away from the sound just happened to take me far enough away that one time to pelt the bloater with bombs and bullets. Anyway, that’s the one that hit me hardest, and honestly, the largest problem I had with the entire game.
The other Bloater issue is in the Hotel, but I won’t get into that one in this review as it relates to a puzzle solution. Yes, I am trying to avoid major spoilers because I acknowledge there will very likely be new players who never experienced the story of the first game. Suffice it to say there’s an issue there, too, but it is arguably not as severe.
One last issue I’ll bring up is the Watergun minigame in left behind. This one I believe is needlessly difficult because of what I believe to be buggy aim assist during this mini game. Multiple times during my attempt at this game, aim assist reported that I had a target lock, only for me to fire, and not hit Riley. She, of course, had no issue hitting me. I don’t believe I’ve hit her even one time in this game. Again, not game-breaking, but certainly something I hope is fixed.
OK, issues over. There are some small things I haven’t mentioned, but they’re so small that I have absolutely 0 doubts they’re probably already gone. Now, let’s talk about general gameplay, accessibility aside, because there are some changes there, and trust me, that actually links to accessibility anyway.
To those familiar with the first game already from playthroughs and such, do you remember how safes worked? They would be locked, you would find the code somewhere, and then since you had the code the safe would just pop right open. They actually addressed this in left behind by giving Elli an actual animation for unlocking safes, but this time around, safes work like TLOU2. Yep, the blind can crack them using audio and guess what? Now you can crack them using the Dualsense haptics too. The vibration you get on the correct number is also different. Pretty cool, huh?
Now I’ve gotta talk about workbenches. Ya know what I didn’t realize before now? TLOU1 actually has a TON more weapon upgrades than TLOU2 does. Seriously. Holy cow, there’s a lot. And I say this as someone who listened to multiple playthroughs of TLOU1 before we could play it. Wanna know why I didn’t notice? I can tell you. Back in the old days, weapon upgrades had 1 sound associated with them. It was basically a couple of clicks, followed by a generic gun-cocking sound. It’s easily dismissed if you’re not playing it yourself. Well, that is true no longer. Every single weapon upgrade has been given its own full animation like the ones that exist in TLOU2. And yes, they all have haptics too. Get ready for a brand new experience, or rather a ton of them, as you upgrade your weapons in this game.
Next up, I have to bring something up that I am aware is not going to sit right with some folks, especially blind folks. In one particular way, this game is tougher than TLOU2. Why is that? Well, folks, that’s because Joel cannot dodge. Now here’s the thing. Joel couldn’t dodge in the original game either, and while the gameplay was updated in meaningful ways, I don’t think incorporating dodge into this game would’ve made as much sense. The encounters that currently exist in the game are built around the things Joel is and isn’t able to do. Adding prone or dodge, in my opinion, would’ve required a retooling of the entire game, including level redesign. All that said, you’ll likely want to melee a little less often in TLOU1. Joel does hit hard, but if you have even 2 opponents, fighting both off without a melee weapon can be tricky. The game even gives you a hint if you start getting hit too much, saying “sprint to escape.” So yeah, if you are getting pummelled, don’t try to take on all comers, because you will not win. Instead, try to run, get some distance, and make a new plan.
OK. Time for the big conclusion. The big finale. I’ve told you a lot of good stuff about this game, and I’ve told you about some of its issues. But let me say something that I think incapsulates fairly well what this game becoming accessible to the blind means to me personally. If, for some reason, they didn’t fix a single one of the issues with this game, (and as a reminder none of them are game-breaking), I would still be sitting here as I am now, excited as heck to play this game for you all on stream. As I write these words, there is just one more day left until I get to do that. As you read this, there’ll be only a couple hours. Now I think some or all of these issues will be fixed by then, but I hope that makes my point clear. This truly is a dream come true. I LOVE this game. I want to play it over, and over, and over, and over again. I can’t wait for you all to see it, but even more than that, I can’t wait for you all to play it. Now you, even the totally blind amongst you, have access to the entire TLOU franchise, and I cannot believe I can truthfully say that I was a part of making that a reality. Thank you for reading, and thanks for playing. Enjoy The Last of Us Part 1.
Thanks for the wonderful review, Brandon, and for confirming what I suspected all along, that is your affiliation with this remake, to be true! My review has already been published, but I think I’ll still update it tto emphasize that, given the incredible amounts of praise I have thrown your way in my review of Part II back in the day!
I’m so glad to share your excitement and your dream coming true, and I am also incredibly grateful that for the first time ever in my gaming history, and as the very first blind gamer ever in the Czech Republic, I was also given a review code by Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe so that I could write my review and start doing live streams before launch, just like it’s becoming common practice with you, Liam Erven, Sightless Kombat, Ross Minor and all the other big names in the global blind accessibility community out there!
I had no idea you and the other consultants were not included in the credits for Part II to begin with. So happy this has now been remedied! Enjoy the well deserved awe and glory, I know all too well what a wonderful feeling it is, given my work on 1428: Shadows over Silesia. Yeah, some might argue that an indie game made by a solo developer stands no comparison to the big AAA Sony exclusive franchise made by Naughty Dog, but still, it’s a fully-fledged story-driven action adventure with 30+ hours of gameplay, the first totally blind accessible game of this kind to arrive on PC, and in some ways it has managed to push the boundaries of blind accessibility even further than The Last of Us. If not for your work that has inspired us, this would never have happened.
I’ve always been fascinated by TLOU’s story since it first came out. Just like you, I guess, I could only get to know it through let’s plays, reviews and other videos. Now, for the first time ever, I can grab both games in sequence, in the proper order, and go through them start to finish, entirely independently, in live streams. No words can ever convey how much this means to me, and it’s only possible thanks to you! Of course, the geniuses at Naughty Dog had to implement your ideas, but if you didn’t get to speak to them in the first place, there would be no ideas, and thus no totally blind accessibility ever, at all!
You know what I’m going to say about dodging. I fully respect that since dodging was not a part of the gameplay of the original game, and it would probably be highly unlikely for Joel to be able to swiftly dodge a blow like Ellie can do in Part II, it’s not possible in the remake either. However, I feel a sound cue should definitely have been there to alert you of incoming melee attacks. Even if you could do nothing about them anyway, since you are already slamming the navigation assistance button as hard as you can. You would still at least feel like you know what’s coming, and thus it would give you a better sense of control subjectively. In cases like when trying to aim a shot at a bloater or even a clicker (when you currently have no shivs), this could still prevent unexpected instant death.
Other than that though, and other than the possibly limited audio descriptions which just turned out the way they did for technical reasons, absolutely fantastic, fabulous, incredible, excellent work, both by you and Naughty Dog! Going to start another play-through tomorrow on stream (Czech only, that’s why I haven’t even posted any links). Thank you so much!